Skeptics think that the worth of justice or the prevention of misery is no different, in principle, from the worth of constructing model airplanes or learning new napkin-folding techniques. The value of any such commitment is, for them, entirely a matter of our investment. If we are invested in toy models or making napkins look like swans, then bully for us. If we happen to care as much about global justice, then just as well. Neither commitment has any worth in itself, apart from our gracing it with our affections. Now suppose someone is committed to justice and the prevention of human misery. Objectivists can rank these familiar moral virtues far ahead of--indeed, in a wholly separate class from--the concerns with pickles, cat-petting, toy models and napkins. That is because, from a moral point of view, principles espousing justice and the prevention of suffering are true . There are correct moral principles, and people who embrace them are not thinking or behaving in an arbitrary way. On the contrary. They are acting for the very best reasons there are. The
40 commitments they endorse are correct, and not just because they or their culture happen to think so. Those who care about justice and human happiness are morally sensitive precisely because they are homing in on what really counts, rather than structuring their lives around pursuits with no intrinsic worth at all. Ethical objectivism easily explains the nature of moral disagreement. Moral disagreement occurs precisely because people think that moral matters are not settled just by citing one's own (society's) feelings on the issue at hand. This is a perfectly general point about any disagreement. Physicists and mathematicians, for instance, wouldn't continue in their intramural debates if they thought that personal or social endorsement was the ultimate standard of truth in their inquiries. Ethics is no different in this regard. Ethical objectivism also easily manages to avoid the contradictions that beset subjectivism and relativism. If truth is in the eye of the beholder, whether a person or a society, then so long as people see things differently, there will be different, incompatible truths. That is the essence of contradiction. But if objectivism is correct, then, though people surely do see moral matters differently, they can't all be right. At least one party to any genuine disagreement must be mistaken. (Certainly it isn't always easy to determine who it is, but that's a different matter.) If they say that abortion is OK, and we say that it is immoral, or vice versa, then, since our endorsements don't automatically translate into the truth, we are not forced to say both that they are correct, and that we are correct. An independent, objective standard of truth saves us from contradiction.
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- Fall '19
- The Maids, United Nations General Assembly, nihilists, University of Kansas, Russ Shafer-Landau